The concept of miniature cars driving around dinky tracks is nothing new: ‘90s gamers were treated to the Micro Machines series back in the day and they were generally well received. Despite the obvious novelty factor though, modern takes on the idea are few and far between, meaning any time a new one rears its head it instantly attracts the attention of those hoping for a return to those glory days.
Table Top Racing: World Tour is the latest attempt to scratch that itch. Well, we say ‘latest’, but it actually launched on PS4, Xbox One and Steam three years ago and is only just finding its way to the Switch. Still, better late than never: it’s always preferable to finish near the back of the pack than to get a DNF. It’s just a shame the content available here doesn’t really justify its shiny new price point.
There are 12 ‘championships’ on offer, each consisting of a series of different one-off races that then conclude with your typical Mario Kart-style cup (four tracks, 15 points for a win). The one-off races come in various different types, but they’re the sort of thing you’d expect from similar racing games: a standard race with weapons, one without weapons, a time trial, an elimination-style race, that sort of thing. Nothing too ground-breaking, but they serve a purpose and help make sure things don’t get too repetitive. As well as each championship there’s also a series of ‘special events’, which are essentially slightly harder standalone races that require you to own a specific type of car, type of wheel and experience level before you’re able to enter them. Again, nothing special, but they’re there.
Winning races, attacking enemies and finding the hidden coins dotted around each track all net you cash, which can be used to buy new cars and upgrade ones you already own in your garage. As well as the usual upgrades – speed, acceleration, handling and the like – you can also buy special wheels have their own special abilities. One set makes you drift more, another gives you the ability to jump, another deactivates every opponent’s weapons: it's an interesting idea that mixes things up a bit.
The courses on offer are well made, if a little short. Attention to detail is particularly important in a game like this, and sure enough, the tabletop tracks are packed with fun things to look at as you drive past. The ‘Back to the 80s’ track in particular – which appears to be set in a child’s bedroom – surrounds the course with retro toys, books and gizmos, from vinyl LPs to old shoe boxes and LCD games. Each track has been lavished with enough character that they really do feel completely different from one another, which is just as well considering there’s only eight of them. Although the eShop blurb claims there are 32 courses, that’s really just eight different locations, each with four different (but very similar) course layouts.
This is after you take the ‘Nitro Edition’ moniker into account, mind, which basically means that all the previously released DLC for the game has been included too. When all’s said and done you’ve got those eight track locations (making for a total of 32 courses) and sixteen cars, each with a few unlockable paint designs. Which is fine, but difficult to get too excited about: something that generally describes the game as a whole. It’s fine.
The racing itself is... well, it’s fine. Each car handles well enough, weapons are satisfying to aim, and car upgrades give a noticeable increase in ability (although once you upgrade each car it can be hard to notice major differences between them). They’re all fairly slow, though, meaning things only get really exciting during weapon-based races: when missiles, ice beams and land mines are being launched all over the place it does occasionally hit that elusive ‘it’s all going crazy’ feeling Mario Kart manages to evoke. The majority of the time, though, it’s a fairly mundane affair, especially during non-weapon races or time trials.
Graphically, it does a decent job. Everything runs at an impressively smooth 60fps, and trackside items are detailed enough, but there’s an odd multi-level filtering effect where everything has a blur applied and gets progressively less blurry until you’re right on top of it. The Yo! Sushi track – which has you driving along one of the restaurant chain’s tables, which can’t be good for health and safety – offers the best example of this. At one point you can see a menu lying on the track. From a distance it’s a complete blur, but as you drive slowly towards it you can see a ‘wipe’ effect pass offer it, making it slightly less blurry.
Keep driving and it’ll happen again, and again, removing the blur a little each time, until you’re literally on top of it: at which point you can see the menu’s text detail (the sharpest possible texture) suddenly ‘wipe on’ underneath you. It’s not entirely unlike the way images used to load back in the days of dial-up internet. Most racing games employ some sort of texture blurring effect to keep the frame rate smooth, but it’s rare that it continues to happen so close to your car. During regular driving this usually won’t be noticeable, but if you use the closet camera view (which puts the camera right behind your car) you can sometimes see track detail ‘shimmering’ in front of you as the layers of detail are wiped on.
The Switch version introduces a new split-screen multiplayer option. It’s only for two players, but it runs well enough (albeit with a few judders) and is a good way to have someone else to share your thoughts with as you both try to figure out whether you’re having much fun. You can also race online – either on your own or in split-screen – though we couldn’t find a single race and there doesn’t appear to be any cross-platform connectivity, so we aren’t entirely convinced this is going to be a viable option given the game’s price.
And so we come to the main issue here. Table Top Racing: World Tour launched around three years ago for £14.99 / $19.99. This new Switch version is £24.99 / $29.99, and while we appreciate you’re getting all the DLC too, you can currently get a ‘Swag Bag’ bundle on the PlayStation Store which offers exactly the same thing (minus the splitscreen multiplayer) for £9.99 / $18.99, and that’s for the PS4 version which obviously performs better.
We have nothing against Table Top Racing: World Tour in general. Like we said above, it’s fine. We had a reasonably decent time playing it: we weren’t exactly whooping like howler monkeys and smashing the windows with unadulterated glee, but we weren’t tempted to bulldoze our house because it had been tainted with its presence either. It’s a distinctly average, harmless, passable game.
What’s less passable is the classic appearance of the ‘Switch tax’, where the addition of split-screen multiplayer and the novelty of handheld play somehow justifies the game costing more than double the price of the PS4 version in some regions. Other indie developers that belatedly bring their games to Switch have no issues including previous DLC as a bonus to make the deal a little sweeter and make up for the fact that it’s a slightly older game. This game goes in the opposite direction and assumes Switch owners are going to spend over the odds for what’s essentially an overpriced Game of the Year Edition – and one that fails to realise the year is no longer 2016.
Table Top Racing: World Tour is an adequate enough racer that doesn’t ever shoot high enough to delight, stumble low enough to frustrate or simply do anything that leaves a lasting impression on us, be that positive or negative. It runs fine, looks fine, plays fine. It’s fine. And that includes the ‘fine’ Switch owners seemingly have to pay for a game that now costs ten bucks more than it did when it launched three years ago. When the only thing that stands out about a game is its price, that probably says it all.